This post was originally part of a series on self-soothing from the summer of 2011. While the big stuff topics for stepmothers are relevant every day, they can be even more important to remember and reflect upon during the holidays. May you find many moments of peace in these last few weeks of 2015.
I struggled a long time to write this blog post because we’re headed into discussions of the big stuff and how to self-soothe. The big stuff stirs up our internal stuff. Self-soothing is all about how we manage our emotions and what we do with our actions in the face of the big stuff in our stepfamily. Remember, I’m not a psychologist or a counselor or a stepmother coach. I am a stepmother who has studied human behavior for many decades and is now shining the “patterns of behavior” light on this issue of being a stepmother.
The last few weeks, when you were practicing making space, taking inventory, paying attention to your patterns, all of those studies were to lay the groundwork upon which to process your big stuff. The stronger your groundwork practice, the stronger your self-soothing in the internal stuff.
One of the simplest ways to self-soothe is to leave the big stuff where it belongs. That’s it . . . leave it sitting there on the sofa or the table. Don’t even pick it up. You can walk all around it. You can look at it. You can even touch it, but it’s best if you can leave it lying there while you do.
I’ve thought we need those intermittent warnings that you hear at the airport . . . “please do not leave your luggage unattended, any luggage left unattended will be destroyed.” Our stepmother version could be . . . “please do not take on the big stuff that isn’t yours, any big stuff you take on that doesn’t belong to you could explode at any moment.”
If you have picked up a big stuff issue, you’ve noticed how hot it gets. The three really big stuff issues that come up for most stepmothers? One is the pursuing of the child’s love. Another is the judging of the mother. And the third is the rescuing of the child. Any one of these can burn you, all three together and you’ve got a bonfire.
To be fair, in our natural urge to go towards and connect as humans do, a stepmother will often find herself doing things to gain a child’s love. She might not consciously set out to win the child over, but it can happen. It can happen even when a woman is very conscious and attempting to avoid that very thing.
And, if we’ve seen and felt a child’s love, even in glimpses, to then watch the child withdraw for fear of being censored or ridiculed for caring about us can be a heart-breaking experience. As difficult as it seems, you will find it easier to stay on the self-soothing wagon if you let go of the pursuit of the child’s love. Leave the pursuing on the table and continue to partner with your husband to provide support and consistency for that child. If you can remain soothed and behave as you’d like to behave, there is a greater chance for your connections within the family to become stronger. (I’m going to post about belonging, but for now please hold the thought that the big stuff isn’t about you.)
The same holds true of the pattern of judging of the stepchild’s mother. I’ve found no peace or self-soothing in judging. I also know this is one of the hardest things to not do. You feel judged by her, so why not indulge in judging her? After all, the irresistible feeling of okay-ness you gain when judging her as lacking or incompetent is a potent and intoxicating elixir. For me, I’ve not liked the feelings that come up inside when I engage in judging and one of the best things I’ve done to self-soothe is to leave the comparisons on the table and walk away.
While you’re at it, we might as well get the big stuff over all at once, you might also dig down to see whether you have any, any, any–little or big, seedling or sapling, crack or crevasse–indication that you are attempting to rescue your stepchild. Trying to rescue a child might be accompanied by feelings of better-than. You’ll know if that’s your case. Rescuing someone, anyone, isn’t what it looks like and it most often ends badly. The psychologists have written enough about this topic and the accompanying issues of ego and sense of self, I will leave it at that. Suffice to say, I bring it up because I’ve seen the situation play out, noticed how it works in families, and concluded we stepmothers serve ourselves and others best when we leave off the rescuing.
Your job? Soothe yourself. Leave the stuff that isn’t yours on the table and soothe yourself and soothe some more so you can save space in your arms for the issues that are yours to carry.